Minneapolis officials reacted Thursday to the proposal for a casino on Hennepin Avenue with opinions ranging from outright opposition to cautious support for the idea of strengthening Block E.
The just-say-no crowd includes Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who both steers the city's lobbying agenda and chairs the council's regulatory committee. They're philosophically opposed to expanding gambling.
"My vision of downtown doesn't include a casino," Glidden said Thursday. But Council President Barb Johnson said that although she's wary of projections of some $400 million in revenue for a Block E casino, she's willing to look at proposals that will strengthen downtown's draw.
"Hopefully, the impact would be to bring new people into downtown," Johnson said, adding that she's a pragmatist who would rather see the city get a casino than see it go to the Mall of America. "We'd like to keep more of the revenue we produce here."
The council's stance is important because a draft of the legislation that would allow a casino on Block E requires council approval of the idea. Alatus LLC, which bought the troubled entertainment complex last summer, is promoting the downtown casino idea.
The draft would give the city 3 percent of the revenue, or a projected $12 million annually. But the city is barred from charging other local taxes or fees at the casino, which could rule out such traditional taxes as the half-percent local sales tax and various hospitality taxes of up to 3 percent for liquor and meals downtown and a citywide lodging tax.
If a casino pulls business away from other downtown bars and restaurants from which the city now collects money, that could have an impact on the cash flow supporting the Minneapolis Convention Center's operating deficit and building debt and other city purposes.
Taking a low profile in the matter Thursday was Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents the downtown area. She's usually an outspoken advocate for a lively downtown scene, but she didn't return a phone call asking her reaction to the casino proposal.
Rybak spokesman John Stiles said the mayor's opposition to expanding gambling results from his respect for the gambling compact between the state and Indian casinos. "This is sort of a pretty firmly held principle," Stiles said, and the offer of casino revenue as a sweetener isn't likely to sway Rybak.
Glidden said she's dubious that the casino proposal has enough steam behind it to become law.
The draft bill specifies a location on Hennepin Avenue, with the location to be approved by the city. Council Member Gary Schiff, chair of the council's Zoning and Planning Committee, said Block E has the proper zoning for what would be a general entertainment facility.
The city's lobbyists and leadership have been awaiting the formal introduction of a bill, but the council has nothing in its legislative program bearing on the proposal.
Rybak has been talking up state investment in the Target Center this session, and the city is involved as well in the debate over the location of a Vikings stadium, with the Metrodome and farmers market sites under consideration. A casino, the arena and the stadium all potentially could strengthen the west edge of downtown as an entertainment area.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438